Monday, April 18, 2011

No BORA vet of government promotion of religion

Last month I highlighted the case of the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal Trust, a body established by the government to collect and distribute donations to victims of the Christchurch earthquake, whose aims explicitly include the advancement of religion. Following that post, I submitted an OIA request seeking the government's advice on the establishment of the trust, and specifically whether its objects had been vetted against the Bill of Rights Act and the Human Rights Act (something which should happen for every government policy). Over the weekend I received the response: they had not. While the Cabinet paper seeking authority to establish the trust included the required certification of consistency with the BORA and HRA, it simply sought authorisation for the trust to be established and a deed to be drafted - actions which had no human rights implications. As for the deed itself,

There was no other specific report considering the objects of the trust against the NZBORA.
This is a serious failure on the part of the Department of Internal Affairs. The BORA applies to every act by the legislative, executive, or judicial branches of the Government of New Zealand. It applies to the drafting of the trust deed. While the department was given a brief to write as broad a deed as possible (and so just copied the discriminatory definition from the Charities Act 2005), the religion clause should have raised a red flag as a prima facie conflict with the rights to be free from discrimination and the right to freedom of religion. But apparently, it didn't. Or, if it did, they never bothered to document the justification (assuming there was one). Neither makes the department look good. Instead, they look like rank incompetents who wouldn't recognise a BORA conflict if it bit them on the arse.

I am not impressed.